Gibson ready to work D-backs hard once again
Second-year skipper wants to build on last season's success
PHOENIX -- The D-backs accomplished more than most thought they would in 2011, winning 94 games and the National League West.
But if they were hoping that as a result this Spring Training would be any easier than last year when they were coming off back-to-back last-place finishes, they will certainly be disappointed.
Of course, most will not be surprised after receiving a letter from manager Kirk Gibson this offseason.
"I wrote in my letter if they weren't in shape they would have a tough spring, and if they were in shape they'd have a tough spring," Gibson said. "They know that from last year. We'll keep moving all the time, mentally and physically both. One of our goals is to get physically tougher and mentally tougher, just like it was last year. We came a long way last year, but we need to do better."
Sunday was technically reporting day for pitchers and catchers, but they didn't have to show up at the complex, and all but a few chose to spend Sunday at home. The real first day comes Monday when they will have physicals in the morning, followed by a 1 p.m. MST workout.
Last spring, Gibson's first as manager, the D-backs went through intense drills during the morning, and it was speculated that those workouts were one of the reasons for their poor spring record.
Judging by Gibson's comments Sunday, those drills will continue, but it also sounded like he might lessen the time spent on them.
"We won't have to spend as much time as we did on certain things last year, so hopefully I won't have to beat them down as much I guess," Gibson said. "There will still be a lot. We have a lot of ideas we've come up with."
The unheralded D-backs adopted Gibson's play-to-the-final-out mentality last year, and rode that to a Major League-best 48 come-from-behind wins. They came up one comeback short of beating the Brewers in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, though, and that is something that Gibson is hoping to see change this year.
"We need to leave less margin for error," Gibson said. "If we can do the things we talk about more consistently, we will be better. What we did last year was good, but obviously it wasn't good enough. And we have to get better. We'll come out here this spring, and we're going to work very hard. We're going to work on a lot of the same things we worked on last year, plus some. And we're going to make sure that we have a team that doesn't complain about it, and cherish what we do again."
Gibson would like to see his pitchers be better at getting bunts down, and he would like them to be able to "slash" better. In other words, be able square around to bunt and then pull the bat back and hit away with the infielders charging in.
"I'd love to pull them in and jam it down their throat," Gibson said referring to opposing infielders. "Our pitchers came a long way with the bat last year. The whole team has to be better at bunting. We were brutal. It's not acceptable at all. I want to be able to slash more, I want to be able to hit-and-run with my pitchers more."
Another point of emphasis with the pitchers will be holding runners.
Last spring, Gibson had the pitchers work daily on what he refers to as sequences when they are on the mound. That is, varying the time they hold the ball with a runner on first. Three seconds, then deliver a pitch. Five seconds, throw over to first. Three seconds, throw over to first.
The key is to make sure they vary it up. That made a number of pitchers uncomfortable last spring, as it forced them to think about something other than the pitch they were about to make.
"Most pitchers are uncomfortable with what we do," Gibson said. "You've got to be able to do it all. Now, not everybody can do it. Obviously, I don't want to make a guy uncomfortable out there when he's on the mound [during the regular season], but while we're in Spring Training we'll try to make them all uncomfortable, because I think it makes us all better."
One non-catching position player given permission to report early is shortstop Stephen Drew, who is attempting to come back from a season-ending right ankle injury suffered last July. Drew is scheduled to take ground balls Monday for the first time.
The question on everyone's mind is whether Drew will be ready for Opening Day.
"Honestly, nobody knows," Gibson said.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.